Print Edition: June 18, 2014
“The bill at large poses a pretty big risk to democracy or to politics in Canada, but a lot of specific focuses are detrimental to students,” explains Dylan Thiessen, SUS VP external.
At the May 29 board meeting, the Student Union Society (SUS) took an official stance against Bill C-23, not only for its content but for the manner in which the bill was passed. Approximately 300 amendments to the bill were reviewed in a matter of days.
SUS concluded that it would remain non-biased, though president Ryan Petersen noted that SUS is “not speaking against the party that put forward this bill,” but the bill itself.
Put forth by the Conservative Party of Canada as part of the Fair Elections Act, Bill C-23 limits the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to transmit advertisements to voters, increases the spending a candidate can contribute to their political campaign, and originally prohibited vouching, which has since been amended.
Elections Canada, a non-partisan organization, has been restricted in terms of advertising. Before Bill C-23, Elections Canada encouraged voter turnout by educating citizens through advertisements and workshops.
However, since the bill passed, they are only able to communicate information regarding when and where to vote, and only hold educational workshops for children and underage youth.
Because of this, post-secondary students will have greater difficulty accessing the non-biased information Elections Canada has to offer.
“What concerns me is that a lot of students now, post-secondary students, don’t have that sense of importance attached to voting, or being politically engaged. This measure in the bill makes it more difficult for Elections Canada to remedy that,” Thiessen notes.
This leaves student unions to initiate their own programs to educate and encourage student voter participation — a responsibility that SUS has neither the funds, or the man power, to successfully carry out, explains Thiessen.
“Hosting more political events on campus,” he suggests as one way to increase awareness, adding, “Whether that’s a speaker series with individual politicians, or all candidate’s meetings in times of an election, or registration drives with Elections Canada on campus to ensure that as many students as possible are registered voters.”
Another potential issue could be a question of student and staff volunteers remaining neutral. Elections Canada staff adhere to certain mandates and regulations preventing political bias, whereas student and staff volunteers are not necessarily held to the same contract.
Bill C-23 also prohibits the use of voter ID cards, which are mailed out to all registered voters, as proof of identification or residence. Because students are a demographic with various and often temporary living situations, this could cause greater difficulty with proving residency at the polls.
While no specific actions are being carried out by SUS to directly combat the bill at this time, according to Thiessen, the stance against it is a start.
“Student voices are not heard when Student Unions do not take a political stance,” said college of arts representative, Greg Stickland.